Disruptive Innovation – Business Schools Have More To Learn Than Teach

Disruptive Innovation

It is the dream of many entrepreneurial MBA students to come up with a disruptive innovation that will prove to be an industry game changer. And these days they might apply the lessons learned from professors such as Harvard’s Clayton Christensen to the very institutions they will graduate from. For it is business schools themselves that face disruption, in the form of technological innovation.

Is the business model of business schools about to be turned on its head? We’re already seeing the likes of MIT Sloan raising eyebrows by making available hundreds of lessons through open courseware, and MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) attracting participants not in the tens but in the tens of thousands. The idea of free or low-cost lectures delivered by renowned faculty to a global audience throws down a gauntlet to the high-touch and high-cost classroom experience which defines the MBA experience at the world’s top schools.

For Bob Bruner, dean of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, the evolution of MOOCs could reveal the weaknesses and stress points in the industry. “There will be winners and losers” he says, and likens the impact of technology to that of globalisation in the last decade. He believes that basic courses will be delivered online, freeing up more time for enriching classroom debate and a focus on the case method.

Critics claim that business schools are too conservative and resistant to change, and that the writing is on the digital wall for many institutions. But is that entirely true? After all, among the lessons to be learned in a globally inter-connected world has been the ability of business schools to experiment and adapt, and find new ways to meet the management training needs of young professionals and senior executives alike.

As companies from Bangalore to Beijing learn to work across time zones in virtual teams, so programmes such as the OneMBA Global Executive MBA have formed business school partnerships across continents to integrate perspectives and best business practices from many cultures and professional environments. “What these sort of programs do is allow participants to see everything on an even basis – there is no presumption that an approach is somehow better because it originates in a particular place,” says Associate Dean Jay Swaminathan.

Few industries can boast a similar level of internationalism, or levels of collaboration across different sectors to ensure that learning is relevant and applicable. The trend towards a new breed of specialised Masters is a case in point. French business school EM Lyon, for example, now offers specialized master’s degrees, not just in finance and marketing, but in areas such as sports and outdoor industry management, and luxury management.

“Companies that operate within these highly competitive, international environments need managers who can adapt their knowledge to the particular nuances of their markets,” explains Patrice Houdayer, Vice President of Graduate Programmes. “Whether a hotel chain, a fashion house, or a manufacturer of sports gear, recruiters are looking for talented graduates who have worked or studied in different regions of the world to help them better understand customer expectations and cultural norms.”

In the case of the sports and outdoor industry, the school has partnered with leading brands such as Salomon, North Face, and Rip Curl to design the course. The MSc in Luxury Management follows a similar structure, partnering with the likes of Cartier, LVMH, and Jaeger Le Coultre.

And of course the learning doesn’t stop once you have graduated from school. Berkeley MBA graduates for example, can continue to hone their business skills through free training offered by the school’s Center for Executive Education within the first five years after graduation. The new program was inspired by the school’s emphasis on being ‘Students Always’. For Whitney Hischier, assistant dean for executive learning at Haas, “alumni participation in our executive education programs will enable us to more closely align with the needs of the market, as well as provide ongoing feedback to our faculty on how we can innovate our content and teaching.“

Clearly there are lessons in innovations for both students and schools. Not every business school will survive the coming disruption, but those that look both within and beyond the classroom for quality and relevance are likely to be those that do.

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